“Do you have skates yet?” a voice said over the phone, while I was sitting and polishing silver at my table at the craft fair.
“It’s funny you should ask that, because I was just shopping for skates the other day, and was planning on getting some this week!”, I said, smiling.
“Well. We should get you a pair. I am going to come and get you and then we are going to go skating!”, he said.
I smiled, and said, “yes!”.
I was wearing a green dress with blue and pink striped tights, a beautiful but crazy jewel-toned scarf my friend Seze made me years ago, and the requisite cowboy boots: not your typical ice-skating outfit. In fact, my friends who stood there chatting and eavesdropping on my conversation said,”you are going to go skating in that beautiful dress?” They also said, “it would be perfect! You out there on the ice, with the fabric floating around you as you skate!”
So. I called him back and asked him to go my house and pick up corduroys and a better shirt, and he told me he’d dig through his attic and find something. It is the small battle of two stubborn people, two people used to running their own show, trying to figure out how to do things together….I pull, he pulls, one of us wins. He did, and when I climbed into the truck, he informed me that we had clothes enough for five people and that I had to wear everything, all at once.
Pulling off the side of the road, at the edge of Acadia National Park, near the closest to Bar Harbor entrance to the Carriage Roads, he disappeared into the woods, through the trees to the edge of the beaver pond, frozen two inches thick with ice that been consolidating for the last week or two. A few days ago, we stopped at the same spot, and he grabbed a cordless drill from the floorboards and we went and measured the ice; then, too thin, but yesterday, perfect. I could see him, crouched at the ice’s edge, lacing up his skates as I waited for a moment when no cars came by to take off my green dress, braving the cold air with my almost naked body, naked save my tights and undies and socks, pulling an old striped wool sweater over my head and warm pants over my tights, laughing at myself as the air whipped around my body, blowing my hair all about my head as I adjusted the scarf and zipped up my jacket over my new, skate-friendly outfit.
At the ice’s edge, on a large shelf of bumpy granite, I laced up my new skates, pulling the laces as tight as I could, remembering my days as suburban roller-blade champion. I was instructed to scoot out onto the ice on my butt, and then stand up. So, I did. Not falling, I held his hand and we slowly, slowly, skated out over the ice.
Clear ice, with white bubbles frozen in its surface. Clear ice, with leaves and lily pads suspended beneath my feet. Clear ice, with trees and two beaver dams poking through it. Lightly carving curves into the surface with our skates, marking that we had been there, on that ice.
As I got my bearings, my ice-legs if you will, he let go of my hand and I skated on my own, slowly at first, but then picking up speed as I felt more comfortable, feeling myself fly over the ice, smooth as silk under my skates. I found that if you barely turn your foot, you can spin in delicious circles and not fall. If you bend your knees, you get more power to push forward, and you can lean quite far over without the fear of falling. You can move your legs out or together and control your motion; you can skate over bumpy patches and pretend you are on a bike, cycling over gravel, using the motion of your body to absorb shock and keep going.
We skated to the edge of the pond and I saw flat granite pieces going down into the ice; this place must have been a quarry years ago, before the Park gained the land and absorbed it. The granite, flat as a blade, covered with lichen and mosses, its smoothness broken only by a small fir tree growing at the ice’s edge. I was struck, again, by the beauty of this place and inspired to make more beautiful things based on the beauty that I was witnessing.
We then skated to the opposite edge of the pond, where the darkness of late afternoon had begun to creep through the trees, casting black shadows out onto the smooth surface. There was a half moon of clear, black ice near the water’s edge, and then a cast of ice so different. It was clear that the water had refrozen there, over a bit of time, for under the surface were cross-hatched rectangles of white ice crystals, frozen under and over each other, like a basket woven of ice. Creeping together and out over one small section of the pond, looking like tiny tiles laying on top of each other, turned this way and that, out into the center of the pond. Here and there dotted with trees or grasses poking out, the white cast of ice spread before you like a road to follow, albeit bumpily, with your skates. I came back over and over to skate on that section of the pond, just to appreciate the amazing processes of nature that can happen as temperatures warm and dip at the beginning of winter.
After a while of skating in huge circles and small circles, of watching someone much better at skating than I do cross-overs and figure eights, of remembering that scene in Fantasia when the faeries turn the landscape to winter, of attempting to balance on right foot and then left, of realizing I didn’t know how to stop, he said, “five minutes?”
I said, “seven!” and then he taught me how to stop.
When we were finished, and sitting on that same granite ledge again, taking skates off and putting shoes on, the dusk was imminent and pensive, shrouding the trees and the pond in an almost tangible cloudiness of early winter: looking out at the trees, their colour changed from the pure green of daytime to a rusty, bronze green as the darkness imbued everything. Looking up, the sky was a blanket of silvery grey clouds, deep and close. The trees’ reflection shimmered on the frozen surface of the pond: all you could discern was a shape of a mass of trees, not the individual trees that you can see on a still day in summer. We walked back to the truck as night fell, darkness coming down from the sky to the earth as another day came to an end.
We finished the day by driving along Somes Sound, gazing out at the lights of houses dotting the waters’ edge on the other side, looking at the toothed silhouettes of the two mountains that line the southern edge of the Sound, watching the trees disappear into the blackness of night.
Deep blue mountains, black water, grey sky: winter.